Popular culture generally considers surrogate motherhood to be a noble feat by the surrogate and a desperate but morally acceptable decision by the paying party. But that’s a flawed conclusion, following incomplete information and untested assumptions. Our current culture tends toward sentimentality rather than thoughtfulness when someone is crossing moral lines to fulfill a vehement desire.
There are two types of pregnancy that “surrogacy” describes.
- The surrogate who carries the embryo has no genetic relationship to the child that was implanted in her womb. The child was created through a doctor’s combining of two donors’ genetic material. At birth, the child will be immediately surrendered.
- The surrogate carries a child who was made using her ovum and the genetic material of a man who is not her husband. She agrees to surrender the child immediately upon birth.
The Catechism’s paragraph on surrogacy applies to both:
Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus) are gravely immoral (2376).
Why “gravely immoral”? Because in both cases, the child is reduced to a commodity in a transaction. Every child has the right to understand himself to have been conceived within the context of a father and mother dedicated to each other in marriage, and both dedicated to him as their child, who is a gift from God. By its nature, surrogacy precludes that right. He is thus denied the respect and dignity that is owed to every human being as a creature made in the image and likeness of God. In a very real sense, the child is being purchased—and just as slavery is gravely immoral for the way it assumes that human beings can be bought and sold, so too is surrogacy.
Not only does surrogacy mistreat the child, but it also involves a misuse of the surrogate’s body, as she becomes a for-profit incubator. Her consent in this arrangement does not make it moral (any more than consensual sex is for an unmarried couple). We cannot sell our bodies, and we should not try to.
It was recently posited that women could sign advance directives, declaring that if they were in a brain-dead state, their bodies could be used as surrogates. Wards of pregnant, unconscious women would exist, like such that has heretofore existed only in horror films. The proposition generated backlash, but conscious surrogacy has all of the same moral problems: the exploitation of the body is the same, the consent still exists (albeit beforehand), and the technological process is identical.
The entire procedure of surrogacy is fraught with moral perils. Being impregnated by a lab technician is morally repugnant, for it vitiates any semblance of ordinary and natural procreation, as well as mocking the marriage covenant. This union is betrayed when a third party becomes part of the procreative process—a process never to be obviated, however earnest one’s desires to the contrary. The sexual act within marriage is an offering of both spouses to each other, and it is through that union of love and voluntary, mutual self-donation and receptivity that the child has a right to be conceived. On the other hand, the sourcing of gametes, as the Catechism puts it, “infringes the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”
Moreover, grave sins accompany every step of the procedure. The gametes are obtained through masturbation by the men, while the women must be subjected to aggressive and dangerous hormone treatment to induce “super-ovulation,” followed by a dangerous surgical procedure to extract the ova. Multiple embryos are often chosen in the surrogacy process so as to have a grouping from which to select the “best candidates.” If multiple embryos implant successfully, and one of the parties does not want multiple births, the unwanted children are subjected to “selective pregnancy reduction.” This adds an extra layer of evil, as human beings are killed and treated as waste, receiving neither burial nor acknowledgment.
To have conception take place in a laboratory, where the life of the embryo is entrusted to doctors and biologists away from his parents, so that the scientists can enact a type of dominion over the origin of life, is gravely contrary to man’s dignity. The child becomes the sum of technological engineering rather than the fruit of marital love and its bond. By this process, the child is treated as a science project.
The admittedly painful and unwelcome truth is that the desire for a child is not a medical condition, nor does that desire confer a right to acquire a child by any means. That might sound harsh to a couple struggling to conceive a child, but our desires do not give us the right to infringe upon the dignity and the rights of other human beings. A child is a gift—an incredible gift from God. That child has the right to be born as the fruit of the marital love and commitment by his parents. Married couples have a right to perform the acts that are ordered to procreation through conjugal love, but not to force a certain outcome.
Scientific technology that breaks the bonds of the marital embrace offers the prospect of “child as science project” or “child as lifestyle accessory” to unmarried couples, unmarried individuals, and groupings of people who cannot constitute a true marriage (whether natural or sacramental) because they are of the same sex. In such cases, not only are the dignity of marriage and the child offended, but the right of the child to have both a mother and a father in his life is infringed.
Those who have been involved in surrogacy—as surrogates, donors, doctors, lab technicians, etc.—should make use of the sacrament of reconciliation after they have an understanding of the grave sin they took part in. Involvement in surrogacy is not beyond God’s forgiveness. Repairing the fracture that sin makes in our relationship with Christ can be a first step in healing and moving forward with his grace.
Sometimes “assisted fertility,” including various forms of surrogacy, is offered to couples suffering the real pain of infertility. These options are expensive, dangerous, and immoral. Labs have a financial incentive to dangle a hope (however tenuous) before a couple in pain and often great emotional distress. They are desperate.
So what can be done? Some OB/GYNs say that with proper treatment, many couples can conceive naturally, but that is not nearly as financially beneficial to the labs selling surrogacy. Adoption is a legitimate option. And sometimes, when all legitimate options are exhausted, disciples of Christ may be asked to carry a heavy cross, up to and including the cross of infertility.